Audition Tips for Actors, Presenting Your Best Talents

After attending the “IndieLink: Actors Program” at Film Independent, I came away more aware about the many variables that go into auditioning. The evening started with a Q&A with Julia Kim, a Los Angeles Independent Casting Director (CD). The session awakened my interest in this phase of the industry and I have fleshed out her comments where relevant.

She talked about the selection process, about how a casting director can help get a project off the ground. Considerations such as the name game, recognizable faces, availability, and budget are instrumental in assembling a worthy cast. She also touched on how some directors have weak communications with actors, they over direct, give too many comments, or unable to trim down suggestions to actable terms.

The selection process entails suggesting actors for various roles based on availability, experience, and demands of role. The CD culls this list down, and calls those remaining for auditions with the director, sometimes the producer. Selection process continues with call backs, negotiations, and eventual signing of cast members.

If you come in with a prepared scene, select one that displays both your range and character type. Emotional range is another consideration as is the ability to choose strong intentions that fit the scene. She said to keep the scene short, two to three pages at the most.

On assigned scenes, the normal prep time is four days, however, some productions companies are slow in sending out sides and you may end up with only two days to study and memorize the script. A good agent can help speed up this process, and with email transmissions, script should arrive giving you adequate prep time.

Casting directors usually allot only ten minutes for the audition. Thus, be ready to take advantage of this time. It means having your picture and resume handy, comment productively on them, and being ready to answer the all-important question, “Tell me about yourself?” You should also have the scene memorized, off book, and have selected strong choices about character’s intentions and emotions. Also, consider such things as dialogue delivery, gestures, facial expressions, pace, timing, and the styles of acting.

Of the twenty actors that performed that evening, the common fault was that they seemed rushed and did not use pauses to their advantage. Common reasons for pausing include search for word, change of mind, reflect on what’s heard, or set up punch line. Pauses combined with looking away can disconnect attention with the other person and create internalizations the audience can visualize. By creating focal zones for recalls, problems, and avoidance issues, the actor allows the audience members inside his head, letting them speculate what he’s thinking and/or feeling. Combine with facial expressions, gestures, and the scene’s context, these eye behaviors departmentalize issues and make internalization more apparent.

Another suggestion was to add more variety to the performance. This is done by giving the scene more peaks and valleys, stronger reactions to what the other character says, and creating an arc to the character, e.g., going from happy to angry. Instead of a one-note portrayal, add levels of vulnerability to the piece. Well-placed mannerisms and gestures also help flesh out the characterization.

Before starting, slate name and give the CD what and where particulars about the scene. For instance, the scene takes place in a courtroom where I play a lawyer questioning a witness in a murder trial. Likewise, come into the scene with an attitude and physicality of the character along with applicable behaviors. This establishes your character early on and hooks the viewer into your story. Sometimes this requires adding elements not found in the script. Acknowledging the setting or environment of the scene should also be evident in your presentation. For instance, an argument in a restaurant would be portrayed differently than one taking place in the living room.

Predictability is another issue and if you take the scene in an unexpected direction, you are more likely to be remembered and considered. The ability to make bold powerful choices and implement them honestly is a trait CD’s love. This is especially true when using an over done audition scene. The issue of contrived, forced emotions was also brought up. Emotions are what drive the story forward, especially in drama. Being able to portray the whole spectrum of feelings with integrity is a skill few actors achieve. While the actor may feel the emotions deeply, they must also be readable and appear authentic to the audience.

Be into the scene and acknowledge the other character through feel, think, act sequences. This progression of behaviors pulls the audience into the piece. It’s reacting and using behaviors such as awareness, reflections, realizations, expectations, or weighing of options. Such behaviors keep them asking that most desirable question, “What’s going to happen next?”

The genre of the scene is another consideration and demands a certain style of acting. For instance, in comedy, timing is highly calculated and precise. Timing is the ability to sense what is going on in the mind of the audience and using this time dimension to create the optimum response, e.g., laughter, tension, or surprise. Likewise, in comedy, reality tends to be suspended and unbalanced whereas in drama it tends to be lifelike and logical.

With several actors, Miss Kim gave suggestions and had them do the scene a second time. Sometimes the CD does this to improve the actors understanding of the scene or explore a technique the actor might not know. Such repetition often reveals how well the actor takes direction and his dramatic dexterity. As such, in rehearsing a scene, it can be beneficial to attempt a number of approaches assure flexibility.

One last item covered was the resemblance of your picture to your live persona. Sometimes a flattering photo does a disservice as it conjures up impressions that are not you. Catching your essence, your potential in a photo demands more than making you look attractive or handsome. It gets into what dynamic your photo evokes, your ability to portray compelling characters. Sometimes it’s the thought or emotion going on in your head. Other factors include attitude, lighting, and camera angle. Characters in films come in a variety of types and looks, and trying to remake your image into something you are not restricts your ability to find work.

The craft of good acting has to do with making and implementing choices. Knowing what to do, knowing how to do it, and knowing how to do it well. Developing solid auditioning skills is an essential part of that craft.